Salt Lake City, Utah (CNN) – Facing significant anger aimed at Washington and at some of his past votes, Utah's Republican Sen. Robert Bennett was eliminated Saturday from seeking re-election to a fourth term, becoming the first incumbent to fall victim to the growing anti-Washington mood ahead of the 2010 mid-term elections.
Bennett came in third in a second round of balloting at the state party convention behind more conservative candidates Tim Bridgewater and Mike Lee. Lee and Bridgewater now will face off in one final round of balloting to see if one can get 60 percent of the vote. If not, then they will face each other in a June primary.
Bridgewater garnered 37.42 percent of the vote while Lee got 35.99 percent. Bennett was eliminated with 26.59 percent of the vote.
Before the voting, Bennett told reporters "this is obviously a difficult political environment."
Asked what it was like to deal with the attacks he has endured over the past few months, he said, "Obviously I prefer not to (have)" experienced the backlash, but said he has "done the best to soldier on."
Acknowledging the anger, frustration and a desire for change expressed by many of the delegates, the mild-mannered Bennett told the crowd in an earlier speech, "I hear you when you say you want a fighter who will reflect that passion, telling the world that Utahans love their country and are deeply concerned about its future."
Previous polls showed Bennett was facing the fight of his political life, lagging behind at least one of the other GOP candidates. As a result, Bennett had mounted an effort in recent weeks to increase his support. His campaign launched a television ad touting how much help Bennett as a Senate veteran can bring to the state vs. what a freshman could do - one of the major themes he emphasized to the delegates on Saturday although many told CNN they thought it was time for a change.
Bennett's elimination from the ballot likely will send shock waves throughout the political community with more incumbents worried they will also become the victims of the anti-Washington, anti-incumbency fervor that is being fueled at least in part by the Tea Party movement.
While Bennett had won the support of several conservative organizations and has received negative ratings from liberal groups, some of Bennett's critics focused on his vote for the 2008 financial bailout, known as TARP.
"I don't think it's a matter of conservative. I think it's a matter of fiscal or financial responsibility, what the Tea Party people are about and the
vote for TARP and the vote for the bailout was, in our opinion, pretty fiscally irresponsible and that's what's raised the ire of most people," David Kirkham, a Tea Party activist, told CNN in an interview.
Kirkham, a businessman who builds and restores sports cars, was so upset about the bailout issue that he was motivated to form the Utah Tea Party chapter last year.
"That one vote was pretty toxic," he said. "That one vote affected a lot of things, changed the rules of the game. President Bush said that where we have to abandon free market principles to save the free market and fundamentally, we just don't agree. There's just no way."
Bennett told CNN in an interview earlier this week that he had no regrets over that vote.
"I do not because we were facing a very genuine crisis," he said. "And I would not want my career to be marked with shirking my responsibility to prevent that crisis from happening since the financial system was at such risk."
He has also come under criticism for working with Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, last year on a health care overhaul proposal, his pursuit of earmarks, and his votes supporting an increase in the national debt.
Love watching republicans shoot themselves in the foot. Swing hard right folks; you're doing God's work!
Bennett is pathetic. After three (3) terms in the Senate, now at age 76 he wants another 6-year term to complete when he is 82? Now with his defeat he is crying about it? The vote cost him his "career"?!!! Serving in Congress should NEVER be a career that is the problem!!! These Senators emulate Robert Byrd who has turned the Senate into his own personal taxpayer-funded nursing home with aides doing everything for him. Bennett's defeat is a beautiful example of democracy in action. The people decided to term-limit an entrenched out-of-touch career politician. Bennett thought he owned the seat forever but the delegates decided otherwise. We need to sweep out all incumbents in 2010 and start over. We need citizen legislators who go to serve for no more than 12 years then return home and go back to a regular job.
The first of many in the GOP that will fall this year. People are getting sick & tired and taking notice of the Party of NO.
Yes, another republican bites the dust. Republicans are such hypocrites. Bush and republicans are BIG BUSINESS politicans, supoporting Business over Labor and they were just bailing out their own. I don't understand why the republicans got mad, unless they are afraid their taxes might get raised to help cut the deficits they created by supporting their own. Let's take Gov. Jindal. He was against Stimulus funds to help other Americans feeling the pain of recession. Now, that it's hit Louisana, the Governor is asking the FED for relief (stimulus) for the unemployed of LA. I agree they need help, but it's the hyprocisy of the REPUBLICAN PARTY! Total IDIOTS!
Do you hear us NOW? American citizens are fed up with the corruption, lack of morals and the total and absolute lack of representing the people who pay their salaries!
Just one of many incumbent Republicans that will not be returning to Washington. We will NOT accept their policies of hate, lies, racism, and win-at-all-costs tactics.
We want honor, integrity and real leadership back in Congress and no Republican has those qualities. They worked against our country and called for our failure. They blocked all legislation that would have helped working families faster. They blocked unemployment checks for game-playing.
Republicans care NOTHING about the People and proved it all year. They are totally tied to the abusive large corporations who have ruined our country.
Just look at the oil spill in the Gulf. Who are the Republicans standing up for? Not the people – but the BP Oil company. All these states have Republican governors and Senators and not a single one has shown any outrage or done a single thing to help the working people being affected by this disaster.
Republicans are traitors to the People and need to be removed from office as soon as possible.
He was way too liberal.
There goes the seniority that Utah would have had if he won re-election. I guess there are those that don't have a clue.
Vote out RINO's and Democrats EVERYWHERE!
I love watching the GOP eat their own.
How could the gop work in utah with out drinking in a dry state i bet they want new young blood that can win in november